Sad, but true: Cold Coffee? Yuck!

Sad, but true: Cold Coffee? Yuck! March 30, 2012

From Grub Street NY:

Do you drink this stuff? Why?

All this week, Jonathan Rubinstein, the owner of the Joe mini-chain, has gone into work wondering whether today will be The Day. “Each year, there is one day when the world changes,” he says. It’s the day when the entire population it seems switches from hot coffee to cold, served from plastic pitchers into cups full of ice.” When that happens, Rubinstein says, “my whole business changes for the next four months.”

That’s in a normal year, though, when his customers typically switch to iced from May through October. But with this year’s already steamy temperatures, Rubinstein is facing the possibility that what his baristas call The Iced Season could stretch a full six months. And, given the economics of cold-brewed iced coffee, that could cause vexing problems for high-end coffee shops. 

Bodegas and diners and coffee carts still serve iced coffee by chilling their hot java, resulting in a watered-down and bitter swill that follows the same economics as hot coffee. But the best coffee shops — shops like Joe, and Stumptown, and La Colombe — use cold-brewed coffee. Cold brew (or Toddy, as connoisseurs call it, named after a particular brewing machine) is a relatively new phenomenon in New York. Think Coffee began serving it in 2006 and now, Rubinstein deadpans, “It’s no longer a trend. It’s mandatory.”

Let’s consider the numbers for a sixteen-ounce cold-brewed coffee versus a twelve-ounce hot coffee — the best comparison, as ice displaces about four ounces of liquid. The cold one will cost anywhere from a quarter to a dollar more. But the café will hardly claim the entire difference as profit.

Like the hot stuff, cold-brewing involves mixing pulverized beans with water, but the latter process requires about twice as much ground coffee. Those grounds infuse filtered water for 12 to 24 hours, creating iced-coffee concentrate. That liquid is cut with water to taste, at a ratio of about one to one. Yet even after all this dilution, a cup of cold-brewed joe can include 62 cents worth of ground coffee. A hot cup might include 35 cents’ worth of beans.


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  • phil_style

    “It’s the day when the entire population it seems switches from hot coffee to cold, served from plastic pitchers into cups full of ice”

    What? who are these people?
    Cold/iced coffee is a last resort, when the power has been switched off and one has run out of combustible materials from which to make a fire.

  • Re: drinking cold coffee. Sure. I’m unfamiliar with the cold-brewing process. I typically brew my Peet’s, let it get down near room temp, then seal and store in the refrigerator.

    As far a drinking it goes, it’s about the only time I will add some cream and little brown sugar: and typically, it has to be a hot day, midday, preferably. Otherwise, there’s really no point in drinking it: even without cream and sugar.

  • Amos Paul


    >What? who are these people?


  • Dan

    As a former barista, I can say that I despised the cold coffee season. One of the worst working/retail experiences I ever had was manning a Starbucks “cart” (in a grocery store) by myself during a particularly hot mother’s day where the store was giving out free drinks to mothers if they brought in a coupon. The word frappacino still gives me chills.

    Yes, the crazies are out there.

  • RJS

    Ah, … Scot? Yuck? No, not sad at all.

    I like iced coffee – with cream, no sugar – and look forward to the season once again.

    Espresso Royale’s is much much better than Starbuck’s in my opinion.

    Skip sweetened or “frappachino” or any such mix though.

  • Nick

    Dude, anybody who does like iced coffee probably hasn’t had cold brew. Icing down hot coffee is terrible. When coffee changes tempt it does weird things, especially if you’re not letting it slowly cool but going from hot and adding ice. That shocks it, killing all flavor except bitter.

    If you haven’t had cold brew, try it. Definitely worth it.

  • EricW

    Thanks for the advice, Nick. I didn’t know that icing hot coffee was the cause of its bitterness. I may try the toddy method. (I think you meant to write “doesn’t”.)

  • It is good actually, or my one experience of it. But expensive and hard not to drink down too fast. Whereas good hot coffee takes some time, regardless. You therefore savor it more easily, and you get significantly more liquid for less expense.

  • Once you’ve tasted cold brew coffee there’s no going back to the nasty hot-brewed poured over ice option. I’ve had my Toddy maker for 4 years now and it makes the smoothest cup of iced coffee. I add milk and a shot of dark chocolate syrup and it’s a drink worth savoring!

  • James

    I firmly believe that cold coffee is the secretion of Satan’s pituitary gland. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

  • Dana Ames

    The Sunday San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on cold-brew last year. I tried it last summer and was blown away with the quality of the drink.

    Don’t go buying another gadget, though. For one quart of concentrate, I let 1/2 pound of coarse-grind coffee soak overnight in five cups of filtered water in a large glass batter bowl. I ladle the concentrate through a #4 coffee brewing cone and filter, pressing the grounds in the bowl with the back of the ladle to get out all the goodness as the liquid is withdrawn. You’ll have to use at least two paper filters sequentially in the cone during the process; even with taking the brew out with a ladle, grounds still manage to come along for the ride. The cone happens to fit into the top of the storage pitcher I use, so the concentrate goes directly in. It keeps well in a covered glass pitcher in the refrigerator. If in a hurry, you can also add 2 parts just-under-boiling water to 1 part concentrate for a right decent cup of hot coffee.

    Making it can be a little messy figuring things out the first time you do it, but it doesn’t require a lot of time and is definitely worth the effort.


  • I’ve tried it–several times. Not again. It just doesn’t work for me.

  • Bob Smallman

    Cold coffee? On purpose? I suppose the next thing you’re going to tell me is that the earth is more than 6,000 years old!

  • Barb

    Iced coffee –yes with cream.—but even in middle of summer my morning drink is HOT coffee–Iced coffee is for the afternoon pick-me-up.

  • RJS

    Barb, I agree – iced coffee is an afternoon drink.

  • Geoff holsclaw

    Hot coffee all year long.

  • LF

    Cold brewed coffee is really good! Hot brewed coffee poured over ice (or left to cool and then poured over ice) is nasty.
    We started cold brewing our coffee after finding the following blog post. We use a 12oz bag of coffee to 5 quarts of water.

  • Clint W

    After 40+ years as a non-coffee drinker altogether, I finally began drinking iced coffee about 6 years ago. I tried hot coffee exactly once, but I’m not a hot drink person. The best I’ve had is Caribou Coffee’s cold pressed iced coffee–smooth and not bitter–unfortunately only available there in the summer. No sweetener needed, but I do like some half-and-half.

  • I agree that cold coffee can inferior to hot, but I feel that it has as much to do with the coffee used as to the brew method. Just today I had two shots of single origin espresso brewed directly over ice, and it was amazing, smoothe, sweet, complex, and absolutely not bitter. No cream or sugar required. You can’t do that with just any coffee. In my experience the best way to go from hot to cold is as quickly as possible and as strong as possible with an appropriate coffee.
    BTW – today’s coffee was a dry processed Bali that I roasted myself.

  • It’s all about the bean and the experience of the roaster / brewer. I really enjoy cold brew coffee on a hot summer day. But not everyone can pull it off. I have had it straight over ice, and I’ve had it half / half with sparkling mineral water and a wedge of water. Both ways are fantastic.

  • TJJ

    There are two things I never drink, unless very desperate: cold coffee and warm beer. Both are against nature and contrary to the true essence of those beverages. Sure, a dog can probably drive a car too, but I don’t have to or want to ride along with it.